Hugh Thompson earned respect and a paycheck investigating deaths, first as a homicide detective in the Milwaukee Police Department, then as a private investigator.
He helped convict criminals and uncover the facts in hundreds of cases.
The investigation of Thompson’s own death, in a bike crash on Oct. 3, is not likely to lead to citations or criminal charges.
It does reveal how a ride around the block can become tragic.
Thompson was always athletic. A baseball and basketball player from Milwaukee, he is enshrined in both the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Athletic Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Old Timer Baseball Hall of Fame.
During his 33 years on the Milwaukee Police Department, he became a nationally ranked handball player, with legendary status at the Rec-Plex on the Marquette University campus.
Observers reported that close to 1,000 people turned out for his funeral on Oct. 13 at St. Dominic Catholic Church and one noted it appeared to be a meeting of the Wisconsin Bar Association. Dozens of lawyers paid their respects to an investigator they had worked with for decades.
At 73, and retired from his private investigator business, Thompson had stayed active and was riding his Huffy bicycle just blocks from his home about 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 3.
He suffered head injuries when a woman backing her BMW X5 sports utility vehicle from a driveway on Klondike Ct. knocked him off his bicycle and into the street. He died six days later.
The BMW driver, Kathleen Panor, 61, of Nekoosa, told police she walked to her car, did not see anyone and backed slowly out of the driveway. She felt a bump, got out and saw Thompson in the street.
The police report lists Panor's failure to yield the right of way, inattentive driving and unsafe backing as contributing factors in Thompson’s death.
Thompson’s actions were factors, as well. He was biking on the left side of the two-way street, and wearing headphones, but no helmet.
As Brookfield Police Capt. Phil Horter described, it was “a tragic and unfortunate event.”
“The bottom line is everybody needs to use more caution, and to be aware of the activities around them,” Horter said. “People get a little lazy.”
It’s likely no tickets will be issued in the case. Klondike Ct. is a private street, maintained by the condominium owners. Police can’t cite motorists for failure to yield or improper backing on the private road, according to Horter.
Because the crash caused a death, the investigation reports will be reviewed by the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office, in keeping with standard procedure.Thompson is one of 12 bicyclists killed this year in crashes with motor vehicles in Wisconsin.